Listeners who complained about the lack of emotional involvement in Aimee Mann's last disc, Lost in Space, must've overlooked the album's title: Mann's songs detailed the numbness induced by addiction, heartbreak, and professional disappointment, so her blank, spacey guitars and coolly detached singing reflected that loss of feeling -- that sense of drifting through time untethered to much of anything.
On The Forgotten Arm, her fifth album, Mann again makes the music mirror her stories, which this time, in unabashed concept-album style, chart the relationship of two lovers named John and Caroline.
Too often this results in a sound as tedious and glazed-over as the most average day in a couple's life. Mann's pinched croon is still as oddly affecting as ever, and she pulls off a handful of melodies that impressively weave in and out of minor-key melancholy.
But in an attempt to get away from the fussy studiocraft that Mann's historically indulged in, producer Joe Henry flattens everything happening beneath Mann's voice: The Forgotten Arm isn't the live, off-the-cuff effort Mann and Henry were after, but an overly polite mishmash of waxy piano and bland strum. Next time you're buying diapers, crank it up.